Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Success Academy eliminating one fourth of their 12-1-1 classes for special needs students this year

In June, I was contacted by two parents whose fifth-grade special needs children were in a self-contained 12-1-1 class at Success Academy Bed Stuy middle school. They told me how the principal, Rishabh Agarwal, had brought them individually into his office and told them that the school was getting rid of their 12-1-1 self-contained program, because the school didn’t know how to educate kids with special needs and it was too difficult to find a certified special education teacher. 
He said their only two choices were to agree to have their kids held back in a regular 5th grade class or transfer them to a different school outside the Success charter network of 46 schools.
I contacted two attorneys with experience in special education, who told me that if their IEPs mandated a 12-1-1 class the school could not legally get rid of the program, but neither parent wanted to sue.  Neither did they want their children to be held back, since they’d been held back already at least once already by Success and felt that their children’s records did not merit being retained once again.  I asked the two parents to email the principal to confirm their story, and to copy Eva Moskowitz.   
A few weeks later, I checked back with the parents, and they told me their emails had not been responded to by anyone at the network.  They put me in touch with a third parent who confirmed their story -- that the entire class of fifth graders had essentially been driven out of the school, and the parents had received no help from Success in finding a new school.
I then contacted Ellen McHugh of the Citywide Council of Special Education for advice.  She contacted the special education office at the NYC Department of Education to ask them if they knew about this; and they did not.  (The DOE’s Committee on Special Education is officially in charge of overseeing all special education students, including those enrolled at NYC charter schools, to ensure that they are receiving their mandated services.)
The DOE must have then contacted Success to ask them what was going on, because the next day, the parents received calls from different administrators at the school.  One parent was now offered a seat for her son in a 12-1-1 class at a Success Academy Middle school in Ditmas Park, many miles away from her home– though he would still be held back, even though he was reading at grade level and had received 71.1% on his report card for the year.   
According to Success’s account in an article in today’s Politico Pro, five out of the ten children in the class were going to be held back.  Of the five students that Success had decided could move forward, they were offered a seat in a 12-1-1 class at a school even further away – Success Academy Midtown West in Manhattan. Here is the explanation offered by Success officials to the Politico reporter, Madina Touré:  
Success told POLITICO that five of the 10 students in the 12:1:1 class were held back, which would have resulted in five students in a fifth-grade 12:1:1 class and five students in a 12:1:1 sixth-grade class. The network, Success said, does not have the space, teachers or funds to offer classes with five students each.
Success said that the school did not have a 12:1:1 class in the fourth grade last year because its schools go from kindergarten to fourth grade and then fifth grade to eighth grade.
Success also said that students are supposed to be educated in the "least restrictive environment," noting that an 8:1 or 6:1 class "is considered more restrictive than a 12:1:1."
The network offered the sixth-graders the option of a seat at Success Academy Midtown West in Manhattan in a 12:1:1 classroom or to stay at Bed-Stuy 1 in an Integrated Co-Teaching classroom — classes led by two teachers that combine special education students with general education students who need extra help.
The fifth-graders were offered a seat in a 12:1:1 classroom at Success Academy Ditmas Park Middle School in Brooklyn or an ICT classroom at Bed-Stuy 1. Eight of the 10 students are enrolled at Unity Prep, Success said.
First, these kids were not offered a seat in any 12-1-1 class until DOE interceded with Success and blew the whistle.  Second, most 12-1-1 classes feature mixed grades, so this makes little sense as an explanation. 
More likely, Success officials decided to get rid of this class because it was too hard to find a qualified teacher, as the principal had told the parents, and these students had likely brought the school’s test scores down in any case. 
The principal, Rishabh Agarwal, refused to comment to Politico and is no longer working at Success.  According to his LinkedIn profile, he is now attending Harvard Business School, which suits his resume since before being hired as an “analyst” and administrator at Success, his only previous work experience was as stock analyst at a brokerage house in Chicago.
On May 30, 2018, just a few days before the parents at Bed Stuy Middle school were told to find a new school for their children, Charles Sahm of the Manhattan Institute wrote the sort of glowing account of Success Academy for The 74 that is usual for that news site, funded by a typical array of pro-privatization foundations, including Gates, Walton and Bloomberg, as well as Jon Sackler, whose family made their fortune off Oxycontin. 
This piece, later reprinted on the Manhattan Institute website, focused on the network’s results with kids with disabilities, and more specifically with students in their 12-1-1 programs.  Sahm reported that “This year, Success has 24 self-contained classes serving 288 students…. when students need that level of support, the network seeks space in one of its 17 schools offering 12:1:1.”
Hmm.  Success told Madina Touré, the Politico reporter, that next year they will have “18 12:1:1 classes at 13 different Success schools” so it appears that they are eliminating one fourth of all their 12:1:1 classes in one year, at four of their schools – even though the total number of Success charter schools and students is still expanding fast.
It can’t be for lack of space; as we know from DOE that there are more than 3,000 empty seats in Success charter schools in Brooklyn alone.  I wonder where all the other students who were attending 12-1-1 classes will attend school next year. (If you are a parent of one of these children, feel free to contact me at
Sahm went on to explain how well these Success students in 12-1-1 classes do on the state exams:
Of Success students with special needs, 82 percent scored proficient in math and 60 percent in English. Success reports that even among its students with moderate to severe learning disabilities — those assigned to self-contained classrooms with other students who have learning disabilities — 54 percent scored proficient in math and 32 percent in English. Astonishingly, Success students in self-contained classrooms outperformed both district and charter school math proficiency averages.
Now that one knows how they achieved these high test scores by carefully winnowing out high-needs students, these results do not seem so miraculous after all.
Sahm then quoted Julie Freese, who oversees Success’s special education efforts: “Success staffs its 12:1:1 and ICT classrooms with lead teachers experienced in special education. ‘We put our best teachers with our most vulnerable students,’ she notes.”
One of the parents told me that a woman named Karen Wade was the lead teacher of her child’s 12-1-1 class last year at Success Bed Stuy middle school.  I looked Wade up on the state website for certified teachers – and she isn’t listed, meaning she had no kind of teaching certification, no less one in special education.   Then I found her profile at Linked in.  
According to her profile, Karen Wade graduated from Brooklyn College with a BS in psychology in 2015, was a sales assistant at H & M and Saks department stores for several years, then an administrative assistant for three months at Nazareth Regional high school, a parochial school in Brooklyn. 
She had no teaching experience of any kind when she was hired as the lead teacher in March 2017 for the 12-1-1 class at Success Academy.  So if her class of students wasn’t progressing to the extent that Eva Moskowitz wanted, perhaps it wasn’t the fault of the students but a result of the inadequate teaching and training at her school.
Unfortunately most of the article is behind a paywall, but below is the excerpt featured in Politico Morning newsletter.  Also be sure to check out yesterday’s Chalkbeat account of the abusive treatment of students at the sole Success Academy high school, where “28 out of about 300 students were sent back to an earlier grade, some moving back to eighth grade after starting high school” and only 18 of the 67 faculty and staff are expected to return this year.   That piece ends with Eva Moskowitz proclaiming to the students, "I could have said, look, I’m going to throw in the towel...I didn’t abandon you. I’m here.”  In the case of these special needs students, they weren't so fortunate.  And check out the latest news about a lawsuit by parents of special needs children kicked out of Success Academy Fort Greene elementary school, which a federal judge recently ruled could go forward.
SUCCESS NIXED SPECIAL ED CLASS, PARENTS SCRAMBLE — POLITICO's Madina Touré: "A Success Academy middle school in Brooklyn will eliminate a certain special education class this school year, said parents of fifth graders in the class who were informed of the news at the end of last year and told they would need to find other schools or be held back. The move has renewed scrutiny of special education services at Success, with state and federal law offering different interpretations as to whether the network is legally required to offer the class. It is also contributing to a narrative among charter critics that the schools cherry-pick students to boost their performance numbers.
Parents of fifth graders at Success Academy Bed-Stuy Middle School said that, in June, they were informed that there would no longer be a 12:1:1 class — 12 students, one teacher and one paraprofessional — at the school. The school's 12:1:1 class had 10 students, according to Success. The parents said that the school's principal at the time, Rishabh Agarwal, told them that it was too hard to find qualified teachers. Initially, they said, the school told them that the students would have to either leave the school or be held back in a fifth grade general education class. The group Class Size Matters intervened, contacting the city's Department of Education in July. Success, they said, reached out to the families again this month.
"This is a technique that many people have reported on that is a way to persuade parents to take their kids out of Success — that they threaten to hold them back, but they repeatedly hold them back," said Leonie Haimson, founder and executive director of the group. One of the parents, Jinnel, who asked that only her first name be used, said that the principal informed her that her daughter would have to repeat the fifth grade — which she said was frustrating given that her daughter had already repeated first grade when she started at Success.
"I found that [that] was really unfair because at the time, school was about to close," she said, expressing disappointment over the move. "It's a shame because every year, we go to the rallies. We supported these people and to get this kind of news, it's terrible." Read more here.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Send your email today to NYSED: don't punish schools for high opt out rates!

UPDATE: You can now go here to send your comment to NYSED, but please feel free to personalize the message.

Parents: please send the following comments on the NYSED proposed regs for ESSA by Aug. 17.  For more on this issue, see the Class Size Matters/NYSAPE letter we sent to the Commissioner in June. Feel free to edit and add to the message in any way you like.  And if you're not convinced, check out the video below from NYC Opt Out.
For more on the proposed regs and the public comment period see:

To the Commissioner:
As you are undoubtedly aware, 20%- 22% of eligible students throughout the state of New York opted out of the 3-8th grade state exams over the previous three years.  Only 8% of districts met the 95% testing participation rate in 2017, and while the state has not yet released the opt out figures for last spring, several news accounts reveal that the number will remain high.
And yet these draft ESSA regulations could allow the Commissioner to label any schools with opt out rates over 5% as needing Comprehensive or Targeted Support, require them to use Title I funds to lower these rates, and even close these schools and/or convert them to charter schools.
None of these provisions are required by the ESSA law, none of them would improve the learning conditions for NY state children, and all of them contradict earlier statements from the Board of Regents that schools with high opt out rates would not be punished.
I strongly urge you to delete these provisions from the proposed regulations, and allow parents to opt out of the state exams if they so choose, as ESSA allows.
I also urge you to fundamentally revamp the state exams and the way in which they are scored, as well as the Common Core standards on which they are based, to improve their fairness, reliability, validity, and diagnostic utility, and ensure that they are less onerous and stressful for children.
Not only would this help improve learning conditions throughout the state, but it would be the best way to persuade me and other parents to allow our children to take these exams again. 

Yours sincerely,
[name, address and email]

Why does NYSED want to punish schools for Opt Out? from Mr Ed on Vimeo.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Disappointing 2017 results released from literacy coach initiative- but is DOE hiding even more recent findings?

On Thursday, Leslie Brody of the Wall Street Journal reported that the first year results of the DOE literacy coach program were a bust, as the 2nd graders at schools with these full time teacher coaches tested no better after nearly a year than similar students in other schools with no coaches. 

And yet the DOE plans to keep on expanding this program, and to spend nearly $90 million on it next year:

 A major push by New York City to help poor children in public schools learn to read by assigning literacy coaches to their teachers had no impact on second-graders’ progress, according to a study of its first year.
The city Department of Education conducted the evaluation, but its officials said Thursday it was too early to judge the initiative. They said they would strengthen the program while boosting annual funding to $89 million, from $75 million….
This evaluation tested second-graders in schools that had literacy coaches, and compared their results with peers in similar city schools that had no coaches. The report found that both groups of students were behind in skills in October 2016 and fell further behind expectations by May 2017.
Each group gained an average of four months of skills, when they should have gained seven months. At the end of second grade, students in schools with coaches on average performed at the level expected in the second month of second grade, on a measure known as the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Test. It covered decoding skills, word knowledge and comprehension.

This program is really the only major DOE initiative focused on boosting learning in elementary schools, aside from the expansion of preK, as the mayor went back on his campaign promises to reduce class size.
Like the Renewal program for struggling schools, this initiative was launched by Chancellor Farina with great fanfare, based on her theory of education that the only thing that really matters is providing more professional development to teachers.  Teachers cannot have too much training, according to Farina, and the Renewal program featured more and more PD for teachers and principals, with the total program (along with wrap-around services) costing about $187 million last year, according to the Independent Budget Office, with disappointing results.  Many schools on the Renewal list have now closed, without ever getting a chance to reduce class size.  Those that did feature small classes saw a significantly better chance of success, and many of them have left the program, as I pointed out in my testimony on Renewal schools last year.
Similarly, for all schools, Farina altered the use of the 20 minutes a day that teachers had devoted to providing small group instruction to struggling learners to yet more teacher PD.
Farina's near exclusive focus on PD was accompanied by a belief, as she often expressed it at Town hall meetings when parents complained about the huge size of their kids’ classes, that her concern was not that classes were too large, but they were too small. Perhaps as a result of this single-minded devotion in favor of spending time and funds on PD to the exclusion of reducing class size, NYC NAEP scores have stalled in most areas, and actually declined in 4th grade math since.
I previously wrote about the literacy program last year here; and predicted it wouldn’t work, based on the past record of an expensive program in which Chancellor Klein hired literacy coaches in all elementary schools during the first phase of Children’s First, presumably at the advice of Carmen Farina who was Deputy Chancellor at the time.  This program similarly led to little or no gains in reading, according to the NAEPs, and was given up after a few years. 
Now with Farina gone, and with these mediocre results, one would hope for a new direction at DOE, yet Josh Wallack, the Deputy Chancellor, is quoted as saying full speed ahead:
Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack said he had confidence in the coaches, their training and principal buy-in. He noted that some schools showed real improvements.
“We think we are on the right track,” he said. “We know we have a lot of work to do.”
Skeptics of the initiative have long argued it would be better to reduce class size, add services for the disabled and require a stronger focus on phonics, which teaches children to sound out letters as a primary way to identify words.
The department has expanded the literacy initiative yearly, and will dispatch about 500 coaches this fall,  [out of 661 elementary schools] with every elementary school getting a coach or additional attention.

 After I read the Wall Street Journal article, I asked for and received a copy of this evaluation from DOE which is now posted here. I was surprised to discover that it is not really a formal evaluation, but a mere eleven slide power point, larded with inspirational quotes and with only one slide devoted to the test results. 
That slide shows that the 2nd graders tested in November and May in both “current and future ULit schools [those with literacy coaches] started behind in reading and fell further behind” . 
There are also survey results showing that while coaches reported that they spent the greatest amount of time with classroom teachers “co-planning”, teachers themselves wanted instead “More support in working with struggling readers.”
The DOE deck ends this way:
 “We hope to see reading gains in the coming years
  • ·       As coaches deepen their knowledge base and craft
  • ·       As teachers and schools benefit from multiple years of coaching.”
(Strangely, this comment omits mention of the students who one would hope would be the main beneficiaries of the program.)
What I hadn’t originally noticed from the Wall St. Journal story was the comparative analysis of test score gains (or losses) was based on assessments that these students took more than a year ago, in October 2016 and then in May of 2017.  Why would DOE wait till August 2018 to release this analysis? 
More importantly, where are the more recent results?  Surely there must be new data including the scores of  2nd and 3rd graders from October 2017 and May of 2018.  A statistical analysis could be done in a matter of  hours or at most days to see if there was any evidence of improved results, especially as they already have a pre-selected comparison group of students at similar schools.  

One has to wonder if the folks at DOE waited to see the latest scores, but since they didn’t show better results omitted them from this summary and will wait for yet another year, hoping for better news to provide from the third year of the initiative.  If they wait until the fourth year of the program to deliver those results, it will have already cost city taxpayers about $300 million on a cumulative basis.
I have FOILed for any more thorough evaluation of the program, as well as more recent data from the schools with literacy coaches, and/or any analyses based on them.  Let’s see what data,  if any, DOE provides.